¡Vaya! The UK’s Guardian newspaper is running a series on ‘the New Europe’ at the moment. It started two weeks ago with Germany, last week was France, and now we’re on to Spain, finishing up next week with Poland. This means lots of news stories focusing on Spain from the excellent Giles Tremlett, among others, and a strong focus on Spanish literature in the Guardian Books section, which is pretty exciting given the generally low profile of Spain’s four major literatures in the Anglo media. Yay! (in principle) for the Guardian!
So … what picture of Spanish literature is emerging from the discussions so far? Well, the piece that appeared yesterday on What they’re reading in Spain, by Borja Hermoso, a literary editor on El Pais, is sadly all too familiar. I’ve moaned here several times in the past about the rather limited demographic of Spanish authors covered in that august journal and its peers, and this piece largely reproduces those limitations. It’s mostly a set of disjointed observations about major male canonical figures, and not as well translated as it might have been, but it does end with a slightly more interesting (if unexplained) list of five ‘Bestsellers in Spain’, beginning with María Dueñas’s El tiempo entre costuras and running through Ken Follett, Julia Navarro, Arturo Pérez-Reverte, and (a new one on me) John Verdon. So these are the books that the figures (from Nielsen?) show people reading in Spain, and yet not one of these authors even merited a mention in the main body of a text on ‘What people are reading in Spain’? Hmm.
Much more enlightening is the discussion that follows Richard Lea’s appeal on the Guardian Books Blog for suggestions of ‘the books – fiction, non-fiction, plays and poetry – which sum up the land of El Cid, whether written by Spanish authors or not.’ Leaving aside the formulation of the question, which rather nudges us towards a dangerous universalism, the discussion has thrown up some interesting suggestions (including one or two I’d never heard of, which is always good news!). And for once, I wasn’t the one to point out the lack of women writers, although I did respond to said observation by throwing Dulce Chacon and Pardo Bazan into the mix. If you go and look at the comments you will also notice that there doesn’t seem to be any capacity to correct embarrassing typos in one’s own posts, which is something to bear in mind if like me you have fat fingers and were posting by phone from the passenger seat of a car barrelling up the M6 …
Seriously, though – if you’re a reader of Spanish, Basque, Catalan or Galician literature, go and join in the discussion. I’ll see you over there!